Meet the Former Gift Shop Manager-Turned-Internet Personality Who Broke Clinton's Lewinsky Affair 

The founder of the popular news aggregator Drudge Report is known to give few interviews and has grown increasingly reclusive

Matt Drudge
Photo: Virginia Sherwood /Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty

Matt Drudge played a pivotal role in the scandal that engulfed Bill Clinton's administration (and the country) in 1998 — breaking the story of an affair with Monica Lewinsky that would nearly take down the president.

But before Drudge was an influential conservative media personality and Internet publisher, he was managing the gift shop at CBS Studios in Los Angeles, emailing bits of Hollywood insider gossip to friends.

His information, he later said, came from "scoops from the sound stages I had heard" and his "friends" in politics.

Those emailed notes, known as the Drudge Report, would grow in popularity over the years, eventually covering headlines (and the writer's opinions) on both show business and politics. The hobby was unsurprising, considering his upbringing. As he wrote in his 2000 autobiography Drudge Manifesto, his mother had worked as a member of the legal staff for Sen. Ted Kennedy while his father — also a former federal worker — had founded the website refdesk.com, which was sold in 2017.

(Drudge dedicated that book, coincidentally, to Linda Tripp, the former White House and Pentagon staffer who secretly recorded her phone calls with Lewinsky and ultimately turned them over to an independent counsel.)

His subscription base grew after he published a story that Jerry Seinfeld was seeking $1 million per episode of his hit sitcom. That led to new opportunities — in 1996, as New York magazine previously reported, Drudge got a job writing for Wired and, later, for America Online.

Those jobs came and went and by 1997, his Drudge Report emails had amassed some 85,000 subscribers. That's when Drudge landed the biggest story of his career: Newsweek, he said, had uncovered an affair between President Bill Clinton and an intern named Monica Lewinsky — but the magazine had killed the story.

Drudge ran his article about Newsweek on Jan. 17, 1998. A day later, he published a follow-up, this time with Lewinsky's name.

The story went everywhere, making Lewinsky a household name nearly overnight and further fueling the investigation that led to Clinton's impeachment in the House of Representatives. It also led to years of high traffic to Drudge's website and years of fame and notoriety for Drudge himself, a political outsider who had somehow landed the biggest story in all of politics.

His origin story was detailed in this week's episode of the FX drama Impeachment: American Crime Story, which follows the affair between Lewinsky (played by Beanie Feldstein) and Clinton (Clive Owen).

Drudge is played by Billy Eichner, who told The Daily Beast that while "our politics could not be further apart," he was fascinated by Drudge. He called it "a great role."

Impeachment: American Crime Story Matt drudge
Billy Eichner as Matt Drudge in Impeachment: American Crime Story. Tina Thorpe/FX

Drudge's Hollywood portrayal traces back to the attention from his bombshell Lewinsky report, which landed him spots on radio (he previously had his own show and would occasionally guest-host for the late conservative icon Rush Limbaugh) as well as an eponymous show on Fox News.

The Fox program would be short-lived, running from June 1998 to November 1999, and ending when Drudge and the network got into a disagreement about a segment on abortion.

Still a frequently-updated site, the Drudge Report's website design remains simplistic: nothing more than series of black and white headlines and a few color photos along with Drudge-written commentary and headlines.

But the site's influence on media can't be understated, as it ushered in a new era and style of reporting. And years later, it still remains a go-to aggregator for figures in politics and media because a reference or link on Drudge's website still drives notable readers (even if those figures have softened).

The site set the tone for conservative media in other ways, as well. One of Drudge's early employees, Andrew Breitbart, went on to found the far-right website Breitbart News before he died in 2012.

Drudge is now 54 years old and has never offered up his Clinton-Lewinsky source or explained how he found out about the affair.

He rarely speaks to media outlets at all and has grown more and more reclusive. In the past, though, he has been forthcoming when speaking about his website's success, telling The Miami Herald in 2003 that he estimated his annual earnings at roughly $1.2 million a year.

In 2007, New York attempted to track down the conservative journalist, who decamped from Hollywood to Florida in 2001 (both, the magazine reported, due to the lower tax rate and the privacy that could be found outside of California).

Though the magazine was never able to interview Drudge for its 2007 profile, he did email them a denial about rumors over his personal life when Out, a prominent LGBTQ magazine, said that he was gay. He has repeatedly denied this.

Years later, he gave a rare interview to controversial far-right radio host Alex Jones in 2015, during which he spoke about how his Drudge Report has maintained its ethos, while the media landscape has changed around it.

"Drudge, to me, when I look at it right now is a correction to this groupthink," he told Jones. "There's no difference from any of these websites. You go up and down — we talk about this — what's the difference between the websites? Between a Slate or a Salon or a BuzzFeed or a HuffPo — what is the difference? There isn't any! And this is travesty. It's almost like a weird conglomerate of groupthink that has developed in a dynamic era that should be vibrating."

Drudge's right-wing critics disagree. They take particular issue with what they call his opposition to Donald Trump.

In 2020, Fox News host Tucker Carlson slammed Drudge, saying he had become "a man of the progressive left."

"But if you've seen the Drudge Report recently, you know that it has changed dramatically, 180 degrees," Carlson said. "Matt Drudge is now firmly a man of the progressive left. At times, his site is indistinguishable from The Daily Beast or any other woke propaganda outlet posing as a news company."

PEOPLE's requests for comment on Drudge's role in the unraveling of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal — and his take on his portrayal in the show — were, predictably, not returned.

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